Designators and Concepts
Much like any language, the development of square dance terminology was evolutionary. Thus it makes some sense to consider square dance terminology as a grammar with relevant “parts of speech”. For example a square dance call roughly corresponds to a verb while a concept could be considered to be an adverb since it modifies a call. Just like in language, some square dance terms can play different roles depending on the context. Here we describe two square dance “parts of speech” which we will call “designators” and “concepts” and discuss when certain square dance terms such as “boys”, “girls”, and “centers” serve these functions in a square dance call.
One of the first square dance calls one learns is “run”. Consider parallel right-hand waves. For the call “centers run”, the ends are not irrelevant since they must slide over to the vacated space. The term “centers” designates a group of dancers to do a particular part of the call. However, the non-designated dancers still play an essential role in determining not only where the designated dancers will run to, they indeed must move as part of the call.
DESIGNATOR - A term used to indicate dancers who will do a particular part of a call that all dancers are involved in. (example: “centers” in centers run)
There are a large number of square dance calls that require some dancers to be designated. Some examples are designator kick-off, wave the designator, bounce the designator, designator break the alamo, tap the designator, designator run the wheel, designator mark time, etc. Note that some of these have defaults for the designator. In addition, there are a number of calls such as cast a shadow that can be done from a promenade where the caller must designate who takes the leaders part.
It’s not just calls that can use designators. Some concepts also require them. In these cases the designated dancers do a particular call, or part of a call, or apply a concept to a call, that everyone is involved in executing. Perhaps the best-known example of a concept that requires a designator is OWN the designator, callA by callB. Here the designated dancers do callA as if everyone were doing callA while the non-designated do callB as if everyone were doing callB. In other words the designator designates who will do a particular part, i.e. callA.
Consider parallel right-hand waves and the call “OWN the centers walk and dodge BY split circulate”. Here the term “centers” designates which group of dancers executes the call walk and dodge. Furthermore the centers execute this call as if everyone were doing a walk and dodge i.e. they do it on their own half of the square rather than in the center box. In addition, the non-designated dancers must split circulate. As used in this example, “centers” is a designator because all dancers play an essential role in executing the call.
While OWN might be the best-known and most general concept that contains a designator, there are several more, some of which are quite familiar but often not clearly defined. The following list is intended to be reasonably comprehensive.
designator START call designator WORK concept call
designator DO YOUR PART call SNAG the designator, call
Note that in some cases, terms such as “all” or “no one” can be default designators.
Now consider parallel right-hand waves once again. If the call were “CENTERS walk and dodge”, the ends do not participate in the walk and dodge. The term “CENTERS” has restricted who is active to a subset of the square. The others could get a drink while the centers alone walk and dodge. The essence of a concept is that it modifies a call in some way. For example, the concepts CONCENTRIC or TRIPLE BOX clearly change the way walk and dodge is executed. Similarly, in the example “CENTERS walk and dodge” the term “CENTERS” modifies the call by restricting the group (or defining the formation) that does it. Thus in this case “CENTERS” is a concept. For the purpose of distinguishing between designators and concepts, one can use the following definition for a concept.
CONCEPT - A term used to restrict the active group of dancers to a subset of the square. The other dancers are not involved except to locate the active dancers. In other words, a concept is a term that defines a formation that the indicated dancers work in. (example: “CENTERS” in CENTERS walk and dodge)
So how does one tell these two usages apart? As Bill Heimann says “this distinction is pretty fine on the dance floor.” I couldn’t agree more. Thus it amazes me that this distinction is routinely made at Plus dances. I believe this can occur because the dancers memorize the various cases. Then as dancers progress through the challenge programs, they simply extrapolate based on previous examples while callers restrict themselves to “obvious” cases.
This intuition serves dancers well until they reach C3a where they encounter OWN, a concept that requires a designator. Consider right hand waves once again. In the call OWN the centers, walk and dodge BY split circulate, the term “centers” is a designator since it instructs the centers to do the call walk and dodge as if everyone were doing it rather than just those in the center box. This causes great confusion for many dancers, because the intuition they have developed over many years of dancing correctly tells them that the call walk and dodge does not require a designator. However on the dance floor, they fail to note that “centers” is designator that belongs to a concept. They therefore incorrectly take “centers” to be a concept and execute the walk and dodge in the center box. This tendency is enhanced because the word “centers” is placed immediately before “walk and dodge” making it seem even more like it applies to the call rather than being the designator for OWN.
So back to the question of how a dancer can tell designators from concepts on the floor. I believe that one should assume that terms such as “centers”, “boys”, “girls”, etc. are CONCEPTS except for those situations that require someone to be designated. Dancers must memorize these exceptions. The good news is that you already have done this without knowing it, since in practice you presumably have little trouble distinguishing these two usages. On occasion though one must recognize the difference.
One case of potential confusion has recently arisen with the advent of meta-concepts such as INITIALLY, FINALLY, ECHO, etc. These terms always modify a concept. Thus in these cases, the next thing one hears must be a concept i.e. in the concept “INITIALLY CENTERS”, CENTERS is a concept, and therefore the centers do the first part of the call as if the rest of the square doesn’t exist. Compare this with “centers START”. Because the concept START requires a designator, “centers” designates someone to do a particular part of a call that everyone is involved in. Thus dancers must take everyone into account when identifying their part.
As an example, consider the “bat” formation formed by the call “CENTERS ah so” from a right-hand tidal wave. In the call “INITIALLY CENTERS, ½ reset”, “CENTERS” is a concept and therefore the center 4 do the first part of the call as if the entire world consisted of the center box. Thus the lead center dancers peel away from the center of the square and join left hands with the center trailers. Then everyone completes ½ reset by hinging, yielding magic columns. On the other hand, in the call “centers START, ½ reset”, “centers” is a designator and they therefore do the first part of ½ reset as if everyone were involved. Thus the center leaders peel away from their side of the square and join right hands with the center trailers. Then everyone completes ½ reset by hinging yielding right-hand columns.
There are other cases that have remained confusing, notably who is identified by the term “centers”. Let’s consider the more general case first, i.e. the use of CENTERS as a concept. When CENTERS is a concept, it identifies a formation of four dancers who will perform the call as if no one else existed. Thus it seems reasonable to conclude that this group should be identifiable based solely on their positions within the square, and that the call itself should be irrelevant in defining the group. Note that these properties are inherent in all other formation-defining concepts such as TRAPEZOID, PARALLELOGRAM, SPLIT PHANTOM LINES, etc. Based on these considerations, I believe that when CENTERS is used as a concept, it should always refer to the four dancers closest to the flagpole center. This default is not particularly restrictive since callers can explicitly state the active formation if it’s something other than these four. Terms that do this such as CENTER WAVE, CENTER 6, etc. are already in common usage. If the caller wants the centers of each side of a tidal wave to perform a two-person call (e.g. hinge), they need only say EACH WAVE, CENTERS hinge.
When “centers” is used as a designator, the dancers that the term “centers” refers to considerably less clear. This is because designating someone is part of the definition of the call (or concept) and thus whom the term “centers” refers may be inherently part of the call. To illustrate this idea consider the call “walk and dodge”. The definition can be simply expressed as “trailers walk while the leaders dodge”. Thus within the definition, the terms “leaders” and “trailers” designate who does which part. Now consider the call “centers run”. One could define this call as “centers run while the others dodge”. Thus the situation is quite similar to that of a definition that includes who does particular parts as part of the definition itself. Therefore an excellent argument can be made that the term “centers” is a specific property of each call (or concept) that requires a designator and therefore the dancers designated by the term “centers” depends on the call (or concept) itself. This is not very helpful in responding to a novel situation on the dance floor.
For calls that require a designator, by precedent we have created a “general rule”* based on the number of people required to do the call. Namely, if the square can be divided into two sides that work independently from each other throughout the call and the square is arranged so that centers can be identified in each group, the designator “centers” refers to the centers of each side (group of four). For example, from a tidal wave, the term “centers” in “centers run” refers to the centers of each wave. While this “general rule” may not be ideal, it’s the best one can do at the present. For concepts that require a designator, precedent is less clear to me, probably because there are only a few concepts that require a designator. However, in these situations, I believe that the term “centers” has more frequently referred to the four dancers closest to the center of the square. Thus when the designator “centers” is part of a concept, I take it to mean the four dancers closest to the flag-pole center of the square.
In the final analysis, as dancers move up through the challenge programs, they should become aware that some square dance terms (centers, boys, girls, etc.) can take on the role of either designators or concepts. In fact, dancers must learn this difference (at least implicitly) when they encounter the OWN concept. From the dancers viewpoint, the most important distinction between concepts and designators is identifying the active group in the square. When used as concepts, these terms limit the active group to the subset of the square identified by the term in question. Thus dancers need only consider this subset when doing the call. On the other hand, when these terms are used as designators, the whole square remains involved and all of the dancers must be considered when executing the call.
* By “general rule” I mean one that is typically, though not necessarily, obeyed.
EXAMPLES (the term in question is in italics)
Formation : facing lines
Call : beau hop
Beau is a designator because the call hop ALWAYS requires a designator. Note that in this case it designates who walks on the first part of the call. At the same time, the non-designated dancers dodge. Thus everyone is involved.
Formation : right-hand two faced lines
Call : bounce the centers
Centers is a designator because the call “bounce” commonly employs a designator. (Bounce has a default designator of “no one”.) Note that in this case centers designates who turns back after everyone has veered back-to-back (i.e. everyone is involved in bounce). Designatees are identified by their position at the beginning of the call rather than at the point they perform the designated role.
Formation : facing lines
Call : centers right and left thru
Centers is a concept because the call “right and left thru” does NOT require a designator. In this case, centers specifies that the center 4 will execute right and left thru in the center box. The ends are irrelevant in the execution of the call.
Formation : right-hand two faced lines
Call : OWN the centers, belles run BY crossover circulate
Centers is a designator because the concept “OWN the” requires a designator. Note that in this case centers designates who does a “belles run” as if everyone was doing belles run. The others are involved by doing a crossover circulate.
Belles is also a designator because, as we’ve previously seen, the call “run” requires a designator.
Formation : lines facing out
Call : centers, beaus run
Centers is a concept because the call “beaus run” does NOT require a designator. In this case, centers specifies that the center 4 will execute the call “beaus run” in the center box. The ends are irrelevant in the execution of the call.
Beaus is a designator because the call “run” requires a designator to indicate who does the “run” part of the call .
Formation : facing lines
Call : ECHO centers, right and left thru
Centers is a concept because the meta-concept “ECHO” must modify a concept to form a new concept (in this case ECHO centers). Thus centers specifies that the center 4 will execute the first “right and left thru” in the center box. Then second “right and left thru” will be done normally.
Formation : right-hand columns
Call : centers WORK TANDEM, hinge
Centers is a designator because the concept “WORK” commonly employs a designator. (WORK has a default designator of “everyone”.) Because centers is a designator, it means that everyone must do a hinge. Centers WORK TANDEM specifies that the center 4 will execute their hinge tandem-ly. The ends of the column do a normal hinge.
One thing to note here is that WORK is actually a meta-concept since it always modifies a concept (in this case TANDEM).
Formation : right-hand columns
Call : centers TANDEM, hinge
Centers is a concept because the concept “TANDEM” does not need a designator. Because centers is a concept, it means that only the center box of 4 does a TANDEM hinge. The ends don’t move (unless to tie their shoes).
Formation : right-hand tidal waves
Call : centers WORK STABLE, shazam
Centers is a designator because the concept “WORK” commonly employs a designator. Because “WORK” is a concept which uses a designator, I believe that centers refers to the 4 dancers closest to the flagpole center (i.e. the center wave). Thus this call should end in a t-bone 2x4 with the center box in lines facing out and the ends in a left hand column. Contrast this with “EACH WAVE centers WORK STABLE, shazam”. Here the concept “EACH WAVE” has reduced each dancer’s formation to a 1x4 and thus centers designates the center 2 of each 1x4. This call therefore ends in a t-bone formation with everyone facing out of their box. Again note that WORK is actually a meta-concept since it always modifies a concept (in this case STABLE).
I’d like to thank Bill Heimann and Scott Morton for their helpful suggestions on this article.